Conferences, BBC, and Giardia, Oh My

9/26/10 1:33 p.m.

Another interesting week in the books. After my last post, I got a too-short haircut and an invitation to dinner at the barber’s house, went home to strap on the Asics, and went for a run in the late afternoon sun. I returned to 3 missed phone calls. Apparently the Counterpart/ Project Design and Management (PDM) workshop bus had been waiting for me in Yerevan…

About a month ago my program manager called me to see who was going to be attending the counterpart conference with me. My counterpart has already gone in the past, so she didn’t want to go. She decided that her husband, the President and CEO of the Y in Vardenis, should go instead. The plan was for him to drive us to Tsaghkadzor on Wednesday morning, rather than going to Yerevan on Tuesday to meet up with the big group and go to Tsaghkadzor. It would save us time, be more comfortable than a marshrutka, and made sense since he has a car. At the time I asked her to make sure she told PC that’s what we were doing, which she said she did. Thus my heart sank when I saw the 3 missed calls and later learned that PC had no idea we weren’t coming to Yerevan. Yuck. Lesson learned…I will be following up on my own next time.

The conference was in a very nice hotel in the resortish town of Tsaghkadzor. The town sits on a mountain side above the Marz capital of Hrazdan. It should have a warning label that reads, “Tsaghkadzor does not accurately reflect Armenia as a whole.” The streets are mostly clean, with nice sidewalks, and some appealing architecture. There are also some nice hotels and restaurants around the town square. Our hotel was another kilometer up the road. It is a sport complex, so there is a separate gym building and a track nearby. The gym is nothing much, but it gave us a place to play basketball and soccer, both of which I successfully did in dress shoes.

We had 2 full days of sessions relating to project design. At times it was dry, but it’s something we need to learn. We were split into small groups and were tasked with designing a mock project. There was some frustration on my part because my “counterpart” wasn’t really my counterpart. I can’t see myself working with him that much in the future. Also, the language gap between us was crippling. The others in my group had counterparts who could speak or understand English, which made it more frustrating for me. It was a good practice in Armenian, I guess, but if anything it was the latest reminder of how little I can communicate.

There were bright spots though. I got to see a lot of PCVs I hadn’t seen since PST or Sevan 2 weeks earlier. The cafeteria was buffet-style. I had multiple showers. I also, for the first time in 4 months, got to sit on my ass with a TV remote in my hand, all alone, and watch whatever I wanted. True, most of the channels were in Russian, but they also had BBC, which was like when you order the 9 piece McNugget but magically there is a 10th one in the box. I got to see Obama actually speak English. He was mad about Iran’s crazy president. Things are still the same in the world as when I left. That’s the kind of stability I need.

But with every bright spot comes diarrhea (not sure that is appropriate but it’s all I got). Yes, my friend Diarrhea visited during the conference. He also brought some of his other pals, Fatigue, Sulfurous Burps, and Loss of Appetite. By now I was beginning to know these guys all too well. I texted the PC Medical Officer (PCMO) Friday morning. She called me back and the verdict was Giardia.

Giardia is a parasite that is transmitted through water that has been in contact with fecal matter. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, excess gas, and sulfurous burps. I was thinking I might have it when I got sick in early August, but decided it might have been a one-off experience. Then I got a similar sickness in Sevan, and now again. One of the things about Giardia is that you can feel perfectly healthy most of the time you have it.

Now I have medicine that should take care of these bastards. I do wonder how I contracted the bug. I have been very careful to only drink filtered water, but there are so many gaps in my defenses. For instance, I drink tea all the time with my family. They also rinse their fruits/veggies in their own water. Or maybe it’s from brushing my teeth. Or from that one sip I took from the water fountain in Yerevan. Who knows. But I think lots of us here in Armenia get Giardia.

Having Giardia is much better than a lot of ailments PCVs from other countries get. Sure, I barely ate anything at our celebratory banquet dinner at a nice restaurant, and I didn’t enjoy any beers with the other volunteers, but at least it’s not Malaria or Tapeworm. In many ways PC Armenia is the “Posh Corps”; we have a lot of amenities here that other PC programs don’t enjoy. For that I am thankful, maybe spoiled, and cognizant that others reading this might be thinking, “I had it much worse.”

I have to pause here and have a celebratory moment. It has been 4 months since I left America! I don’t care who you are, that’s a long time. It’s a college semester. It’s a third of a year. It’s the NBA playoffs. It’s also weird to think that I was initially supposed to be leaving now, not back in May. And I was probably heading to Azerbaijan, which despises Armenia. Four months doesn’t mean success. In fact, according to the “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment” graph we received at the conference, we are entering a 3 month trough of vulnerability now. But the success for me is that I’m here. Thank you for all your support, encouragement, and understanding, which have helped me immensely in reaching this point.


5 Responses to “Conferences, BBC, and Giardia, Oh My”

  1. Peter Says:


    “Our hotel was another kilometer up the road.”

    Congratulations, you are beginning to think like a European. “Dude, I almost drank like 3 liters of beer last night!” Just wait until you start thinking thoughts in Armenian, I promise you will!

    Congrats on four months!

    Oh, almost forgot – “Cycle of Vulnerability”!? Are they trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy?

  2. icenugget Says:

    I am beginning to have dreams in Armenian.

    Speaking of the metric system, all their drinks here tend to be 1.5 liters. Why not throw caution to the wind and go all out, 2 liter style?

  3. Ben Says:

    Why not go all out 2 liter style? Because they aren’t American! That’s why!

    Four months is crazy! That’s an unbelievable accomplishment! Most people who do study abroad are away for that long BUT they aren’t in the middle of nowhere! You are doing something very, very few people could pull off. Congrats bud!

  4. Bryce Says:

    Do they have Jacks Pizza to go with those 1.5 Liters?

  5. icenugget Says:

    Thanks Ben! You deserve congrats as well for your continued AmeriCorps service…what a badass!

    Bryce, they don’t have Jack’s, to the despair of my palate and to the jubilation of my arteries. However, they do sometimes make pizzas here that have hot dog and egg on top, which is basically a Jack’s.

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